I enjoyed reading Atul Gawande’s article, “Top athletes and singers have coaches. Should you?” in the New Yorker earlier this month. While I’m a writing coach and Gawande is a surgeon who employed a coach in his field, the emphasis on a trained professional offering someone individually tailored advice and assistance is crucial to every field.
Here is Gawande’s definition of a coach from the article: The concept of a coach is slippery. Coaches are not teachers, but they teach. They’re not your boss—in professional tennis, golf, and skating, the athlete hires and fires the coach—but they can be bossy. They don’t even have to be good at the sport. The famous Olympic gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi couldn’t do a split if his life depended on it. Mainly, they observe, they judge, and they guide.
Here are a few more definitions throughout the article from different moments in the article: Expertise is thought to be not a static condition but one that doctors must build and sustain for themselves. (…)Good coaches know how to break down performance into its critical individual components. (…)Good coaches (…) speak with credibility, make a personal connection, and focus little on themselves.
I remember having a long conversation with a composition writing teacher at last year’s AWP conference about how I call myself a “coach” when I work privately. He said that he considers himself a coach even when he is working as a professor in the for-credit classroom. Our job, as composition writing instructors to writers (including ESL students and remedial students), is to help lead the students to write better. By practicing the skill, the students can improve. We have to help guide them through the practice while teaching certain craft skills that can help (even if/when the writers decide to break those skill later and create something new.)
To become a writer, is it obligatory to attend an MFA program and then hire a private writing coach while attending workshops for a lifetime? Of course not. But it can be helpful to have attentive outside readers, like some current editors and many earlier editors, who will help our individual voices and writing to be as strong as possible.
I have some openings for private students this winter, if you are interested in working with me as your writing coach. Write to me (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com) for more information or read more here.